Today was a good day.
I haven't been thinking that a lot, here. Nothing bad has happened to me in Kinshasa, but I haven't really fallen in love with it, either.
But today? Good day.
I got to sleep half an hour longer (good). Then went with the team to breakfast at the one French patisserie downtown. I went there on the last trip, but that was for lunch and it was crowded. Breakfast is better. Leisurely breakfast, with coffee and conversation: good!
(Most mornings I've been skipping breakfast, because the hotel charges $30 for the breakfast buffet. Also skipping lunch a lot. I bought a couple of 400-gram bags of peanut M&Ms, and have been surviving until dinnertime by snacking on them. Yeah, I know.)
Long-time readers may recall that on these trips, we usually have a half-day free on the first weekend to do something interesting. This time, we decided to visit a bonobo rehabilitation place about an hour outside Kinshasa.
It was awesome.
Bonobos, aka pygmy chimps, are native to the Congo. And only the Congo; they're found only in a region of dense jungle between the Congo and Kasai rivers. Full-size chimps can live in a wide range of habitats as long as it's hot and there are plenty of trees; they're native to a wide belt across Africa, from Kenya to Senegal. But not bonobos; they need thick jungle. It's not clear why.
The site we visited was for bonobo rehabilitation. There are only about 10,000 of them (maybe) left in the wild; poaching and smuggling are big problems. So this site takes bonobos from captivity, or whose habitat has been destroyed. Some eventually get reintroduced to the wild; maybe some are sent on to zoos (this was not clear). I suspect a lot stay there permanently. Which can be a while -- bonobos can live 50 or 60 years, no problem.
The site is in a lovely location -- a creek runs through it, there's a small waterfall. Forested, though it's surrounded by fields; it's not far from Kinshasa, and you can see the population pressure starting to build. Maybe 20 or 30 hectares -- something over 50 acres. Three enclosures; I think one is for new introductions, one for children, and one for the main group.
The main group: we happened to come at feeding time. Or one feeding time -- I think they have several. This one was for soy milk. The keeper fed them soy milk from a plastic bottle through the fence. They opened their mouths and he just poured it in. They seemed to like it. A lot.
There were a couple of nursing mothers, and he handed them their own bottles of soy milk. (They had no trouble with the screw-on tops.) There was a water tank nearby; when one mother was done, two younger chimps took the bottle and played with it for a while, filling it and emptying it, biting a hole in the bottom and watching the water trickle out.
The keeper called them all by name, and talked to them in rather the way you might talk to a group of very small children -- toddlers, say. "Maxi, non. Non! Fifi, viens ici. Comme ca. La. Oui, comme ca. Bon...
Maxi! Non, j'ai dit NON!" He said they all knew their names and would come when called -- if they wanted to.
We watched them for an hour or so. There was a lot of sex. (Yes, it's true. Bonobos have sex all the time. Gender is not really an issue, and neither is age.) There were several run-and-scrape displays -- the males use plastic water bottles as well as branches -- and one fight, which involved a lot of high-pitched shrieking and an exciting chase scene but no real damage. There was a bit of grooming. It seemed a pretty mellow group, on the whole.
Then we went and hung out with the orphans for a while. These were between a year old and early adolescence. Two local women were caring for them. There was very much a kindergarten vibe -- their enclosure was set up like a playground, with things to climb on and such -- and the two women sat inside. The young bonobos had obviously accepted them as their "mothers". One woman was sitting with the youngest chimp in her lap and a child just a bit older snuggling against her side. An older bonobo child -- equivalent to maybe 10 or 12? -- kept trying to get her attention, poking and shoving. She slapped its hand and gave it a Mommy Look: "you can be with me if you're quiet, but I have to care for these little ones -- be a pest and I'll send you away." Neither I nor the bonobo kid needed any explanation to grasp this.
I could go on at length about the bonobos, actually, but I'm going to run out of internet time soon. And then I'm off to Bandundu in the morning, early. So best wrap up.
(But! After coming back from the bonobos, had dinner at the Middle Eastern place. Which has salads that are safe. Fettoush and Hummus, yeah! So that was good too.)